Saturday, November 28, 2015

rated "r" for ready

What do you say to your kids on the sensitive topics of sex, war or death? 

Your children have to be receptive in order to take in information.  If they are not, and you share it with them anyway, the information may not sink in or, worse, may cause them cognitive or emotional distress.  Untimely sharing of information is a bit like force-feeding.  Don’t do it.  But don’t avoid hard topics or sugar-coat the truth either.  Your child is likely to sense your discomfort and blow the topic out of proportion, imagining the worst. 

With kids, if they can formulate a reasonable question on a topic, they are probably ready to accommodate a truthful answer.  This does not mean you have to share all of the truth.  If they ask where babies come from, you need not broach the topic of deviant sex.  If they ask about death, you need not unload your own fears and anxieties, or elaborate on your beliefs about the afterlife. If you do not know where to start with them, simply ask your children “what do you think?” and start there.

Don’t ever foist your own agenda onto a child.  This includes both avoiding a topic they are ready to talk about and sharing a truth they are not ready to hear.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Out of order

You feel depressed.  Your spouse comes up to you and asks “what’s wrong?” and you look at her blankly, thinking, “Where do I even begin?” and walk away.

Sometimes you just don’t feel like talking about your feelings. 

And you don’t have to.

But you can still let her know you’re not up to sharing your feelings just now, keeping her in the loop so she does not feel redundant, confused and abandoned by you.

This is communication. 

You do not have to share your feelings.  But if you want to stay in relationship, let others know when you are temporarily unavailable.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

after the affair

As a marital therapist I see a lot of couples after an affair.   

Usually, the partner who has been betrayed will experience tremendous difficulty trusting the unfaithful partner again.  Unfortunately, the unfaithful partner is often unable to explain “why” the affair happened and is therefore unable to reassure his or her partner that it will never happen again.

The betrayed partner then naturally has trouble getting past the affair and often asks repeatedly, and painfully, without answer: “Why?  Why did it happen? How could you love me and still betray me?  It makes no sense."

And it’s true.  The two just do not fit together: you cannot care for someone and hurt him or her at the same time.

So why do we betray those we love?

Usually affairs occur when there has been too much of a drain on our resources.  The infidel may have set aside his own needs beyond containment to where they begin to seep out imperceptibly like an odorless, invisible gas liable to explode at any minute.  Then someone lights a match and the unilateral focus shifts from “other” to “me”.  The shift is usually violent, as if the flip-switch to conscience has gone “off”, and therefore has the potential to cause much harm not just to my partner, but to myself as well when I “come to”.

We can put aside our needs temporarily but not extinguish them. My needs have to be met, I have to maintain a steady state of stability, or homeostasis, in order to remain present and compassionate to both myself and someone else.

Saturday, July 18, 2015


Scapegoating occurs when a person externalizes responsibility for his or her feelings, stories or actions, and blames them on someone else.  The offender usually does not think of his reaction as scapegoating but as a reasonable and warranted response to an external provocation: “He or she made me feel, think or act this way.”

Scapegoating has been ritualized in certain cultures, keeping our collective conscience clean by displacing guilt onto a designated target which is then socially ostracized, or killed.

In secular cultures, scapegoating is still justified by assuming a god’s eye view, a position of undisputed righteousness which convicts and condemns: “X is just plain wrong!  Moral rationalizations like these can be so convincing that the target may actually find himself owning not only his own feelings, stories and actions, but the scapegoater’s as well.  Accepting fault or blame for others’ stories is what happens in false confessions.

Although there may be no external authority by which to defend our boundaries, when we mistake subjective valuations for objective truths, ignoring the difference between personal experience and the world at large, we expand our freedom beyond the borders of our own conscience and threaten to impinge on someone else’s.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

boiling point

Yesterday was by far the worst day that I have had in a long time – the anxiety had me close to tears but I was able to keep it under control.  The root of the anxiety ( I think) is worry:  worry about leaving my elderly parents alone and worry about leaving my son behind for the two weeks I'll be gone.   I don’t know why it is bothering me, but it is.  It is making me sad. 

I have tried sharing my feelings with my brother about the building anxiety and how I am having a harder time keeping it all together.  As expected, his response was that I could not fall apart because mom would not be able to handle it.  I was so disappointed by that comment.  I can’t help but feel – what about me?  Am I not important in this family?

Glad you wrote. One word of advice: cry.  Take the lid off those feelings you are "trying to control" and cry.  Cry and cry some more.  Your anxiety will go down, guaranteed.  It is a law of nature (see image): the more you try to contain things (in this case emotions) that have reached a boiling point, the more pressure inside the container.

Pressure against emotions manifests as, you guessed it, anxiety!  So... decompress!  Cry.

Let me mirror back some words you used to show how you are pressuring yourself by trying to contain and control your emotions:
close to tears... but I was able to keep it under control...  worry about leaving my parents alone... and worry about leaving my son behind... it is bothering me... It is making me sad... having a hard time keeping it all together... response was that I could not fall apart... I was so disappointed...- what about me? Am I not important...?

Friday, July 3, 2015

why? because...

I was speaking with a woman today who told me her husband was driving her crazy.  He had neglected to fix a leaky roof and had let months go by before telling her.  Then one day it rained and the roof leaked, and she was furious.  

The woman told me that her husband, rather than apologizing and validating her anger, got all defensive and started justifying, saying things like he didn’t tell her because the roof wasn’t leaking anymore, because the problem seemed to have gone away, because he didn’t want to ruin her mood by bringing up the subject.

The woman threw up her hands exasperated and said to me, “Whenever I am unhappy about something, he gets defensive and starts explaining and justifying.  He never shows empathy or says he’s sorry.  It’s always just excuses, dodges and justifications: I didn’t do it because.  Because, because, because…”  

When I asked her what she had said to him, she shared, “I asked him why, if he knew I wanted the roof fixed, why he didn’t just tell me.”

I simply mirrored back what she said, “You asked him why and he answered because, and now you are angry because he is defending himself rather than empathizing with your feelings.”

Ask a silly question…

If you want validation but seem to be getting a defensive reaction, try dropping the indirect accusatory interrogation style, and transform your questions into first person singular statements about yourself: “I am feeling X because you did X, and I would like you to do Z.”

Save the "why"s for investigative causal inquiry, forced confessions or other situations where you really don't care if the other person cares.